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Supreme Court bats for transparency but seeks information in sealed envelopes

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The Supreme Court often seeks information that is in the public interest in sealed covers, leaving people none the wiser.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court hearing Tuesday on the CBI vs CBI saga threw the spotlight on an important practice in the top court that has repeatedly drawn criticism — of seeking and holding information that is in the public interest in sealed envelopes.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was furious about the alleged leak of ousted CBI chief Alok Verma’s confidential reply to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which has been tasked by the court to investigate the corruption allegations against Verma.

The CVC has filed its inquiry report in court in sealed cover, with Verma submitting his reply to it Monday, also in a sealed cover.

News portal The Wire carried extracts of Verma’s submission, but clarified Tuesday that they had been drawn from his replies to a CVC questionnaire sent to him during the inquiry, and not from the final report.

Verma’s lawyer Fali S. Nariman conveyed as much to the CJI-led bench, but the court nevertheless postponed the hearing to 29 November.


Also read: Committee probing Gujarat ‘fake’ encounters submits report to SC in sealed cover


But the Alok Verma matter isn’t the only one where the top court has ordered information to be submitted in sealed cover.

ThePrint takes a look at some of the key ongoing cases where the apex court has exclusive access to confidential information in sealed envelopes:

Rafale deal

On 12 November, the Centre submitted price details of the Rafale fighter jets in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court. The court ordered the government to disclose the details in a sealed envelope despite attorney general K.K. Venugopal’s opposition.

The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict in a public interest litigation seeking a probe into the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal.

Venugopal, who handed over the sealed envelope to the CJI-led three-judge bench, told the court that even he had not read the contents of the envelope since he wanted to avoid any “leak” being traced to his office.

This information is at the heart of a bitter spat between the Centre and the opposition, with the latter alleging that the Modi government had reworked the financial aspects of a UPA-era deal to benefit from it.

BCCI

The Supreme Court is currently in possession of two secret envelopes that can potentially have a huge impact on not just cricket administration, but also the game itself.

The court-appointed committee of administrators (CoA) led by former comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai has moved court seeking to make one report public – the sealed envelope that contains the Justice Mukul Mudgal report, which named 13 people allegedly involved in spot-fixing.

The contents of the second sealed envelope involve the CoA members themselves, and detail their remuneration for running the cricketing body.

National Register of Citizens

State coordinators updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam are reporting directly to the apex court through sealed envelopes, as the controversial exercise is being overseen by the apex court.

A bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton F. Nariman even directed coordinator Prateek Hajela not to share any information on the NRC with any executive, legislative or judicial authority of the state without the court’s permission.

Even the attorney general, a constitutional office-holder, was not allowed to view the report.

Black money

In 2014, the SC handed over a controversial sealed envelope, submitted to it by the Centre, to a special investigation team on black money. The envelope contained a list of 627 Indians holding black money in bank accounts abroad.

RBI list of loan defaulters

Even as the Central Information Commission has directed the Reserve Bank of India to disclose the names of wilful defaulters, the Supreme Court is also shying away from making the information public.

In 2017, the RBI submitted a list of big loan defaulters – who owe over Rs 500 crore in debt – to the court, but requested it not to make it public.

Bhima-Koregaon

When the Supreme Court refused to stay the arrest of activists held in connection with the Bhima-Koregoan case, it relied upon “evidence” submitted by the Maharashtra police in a sealed envelope.

However, the evidence was submitted months before a chargesheet was filed in the case, when none of the arrested activists had even been booked.

The trial in the case, which seeks to link the activists to an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is currently pending in a Pune court.

Cryptocurrency

The Supreme Court is also hearing a plea against the Reserve Bank of India’s significant decision to ban cryptocurrency in India. However, two key government committee reports on the issue, which the RBI could have relied upon for additional information on the matter, have been submitted to the court in a sealed envelope.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This writer and the website are really rogues. You know very well that Rafale deal is a national issue and there are secret clauses that is why SC is asking details in closed invelop.
    Still u deliberately write such negative article

  2. It is difficult to understand the CJI`s anger about disrespect being shown to the Supreme Court. The wire`s effort may or maynot have breached the confidentiality the CJI was hoping for but it is surprising that he has chosen to the brazen challenge that has been thrown to him by the Hindutva forces including the Sadhus and Sants. They have declared openly that the SC is biased and that it has to be transformed into an institution which respects the feelings of the majority and the individual citizen` rights do not matter. SC has taken up matter syuo moto earlier but there has been no reaction at all to the condemnation of SC and the Constitution. It is really disturbing.

    • CJI’s anger is no different from your own anger about Hindutva forces who are openly saying instead of secretly conspiring. Majority is made up of individuals whose rights should also be protected like other individuals rights.

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